When somebody says “living architecture,” I immediately have visions of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, specifically Lothlórien. I’m fascinated by that sort of thing for a variety of reasons that I never thought probable. For author and conservationist Patrick Rogers, it means truly living bridges — botanical architecture — and it means travelling to the remote jungles of the world to find them. I don’t think I’ve even considered something like this before outside of a fantasy novel.
And yet… this is no fantasy. Fact can be stranger than fiction, for there’s nothing quite so alien to humans as other humans. We are truly an eccentric and diverse species. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that when we stay within the comforts of our own little personal orbits.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
The Khasi Hills in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya is like a world unto itself. Each village has its own dialect, there are natural wonders — and dangers — at every turn, and where you least expect it an unsuspecting traveler can find artifacts of the world left behind…
Like satellite television and the WWE.
I can’t make that up. As an American, I don’t know whether I should be proud of this or not, but I had to put the book down for a while because I was laughing too hard to read.
I haven’t read a travelogue in quite a while, so I was enthusiastic about doing so again. I know just enough about India and her people to make me curious for more. As is often the case, this was something entirely different from all expectations, in the best ways possible. Rogers documents his thoughts in such a way as to really bring the area and its people to life. The attempts to overcome the communication barriers are fascinating and comical. Insights into food and everyday life change from village to village, and often between them. Even so, there are some common ideas that bridge the gaps, if you’ll forgive the pun. When people say it’s about the journey rather than the destination, this is the sort of life experience they’re talking about. Some of the people encountered in this book will make you rethink some of the things you take for granted within yourself.
As I read this book, my mind raced. There are some people who can only appreciate this sort of adventure through a book, and sadly I’m one of them for a variety of reasons (some of them even legitimate). I have the inquisitiveness, certainly, but I’m more Marcus Brody and less Indiana Jones. I could get lost in my own museum if I had one. For this reason and more, I am amazed and rather proud of those who can and do undertake such journeys into the unknown, especially with a noble quest in mind. It’s a testament to our ability as a species to explore, to learn, to adapt, without any kind of destructive or malicious agenda. To have a personal account of an adventure like this is truly awe-inspiring. Accordingly, this book was an absolute joy to read on a number of levels.
But it’s also humbling to know that the purpose behind the adventure, the botanical structures themselves, are disappearing. Always a catch, isn’t there? But that’s why it’s important to make people aware they even exist in the first place. You can’t preserve what remains unknown. For Rogers, this is truly a mission worth undertaking, for reasons that affect all of us more than you might at first suspect. The possibilities are interesting, to say the least.
The photography is just as amazing. If you’re reading on a phone, I implore you: seek a bigger screen. Seriously, the beauty speaks for itself. I pulled this over on my desktop system specifically for this because there’s no way for a tiny little phone to do this justice.
This book was gifted to me by the author (thanks, Patrick!) in exchange for an honest review. Those who have followed me long enough already know that I tell it like it is. This is a fun one.
If you’d like to learn more about the author’s quest to preserve living root bridges, please visit The Living Root Bridge Project. Here you can find all manner of information on botanical architecture and links to the project’s GoFundMe page.